The Doctor brings Ace back to her home town Perivale. Her old friends are being kidnapped by a race of alien hunters called the Cheetah People, who were shown the way to Earth by the Doctor’s old enemy, the Master.
Survival is a bit of a weird note for the original run of the show to end on. Certainly it was never seen by the production team as a definitive ending at the time, as McCoy, Aldred and composer Mark Ayres recall believing that they were coming back for a fourth season. Looking at it with hindsight as a grand finale, it feels rather unpolished, but it is certainly a good, but not exceptional story. The show in general seemed to have regained some of the confidence it had lost since arguably since The Five Doctors and certainly through most of the Colin Baker era.
Where to now, Ace?
Yes, the TARDIS.The Seventh Doctor and Ace
Survival feels quite important, ironically, when viewed from a time some sixteen years after Rose. The Doctor and Ace’s trip to Perivale unintentionally paves the way for Rose Tyler and a family from a council estate leading to the show’s successful revival, which features companions having a more fleshed out home life. Whilst previous companions had expressed a desire to get home, it tended to mark the end of their time in the TARDIS, which certainly isn’t the outcome at the end of this story as Ace and the Doctor leave together. We’ll never know if Ace’s friends would have been recurring characters going forwards – it seems unlikely given that Andrew Cartmel’s vision was that Ace would leave in Season 27 to undergo training at the Time Lord Academies on Gallifrey – but these relationships are precursors to the families of Rose, Martha and Donna when the show came back in 2005.
Certainly Rona Munro’s script also seeks to tackle political issues of the time such as Patterson’s self-defence class, teaching youths the importance of the survival of the fittest in surviving Thatcher’s Britain, a less than flattering view of what everyday life was like at the time and criticism of hunting present here too. It is also a story that doesn’t let up for a second, as the Doctor and Ace arrive in the midst of the action and both are engaged in investigating what has happened to Ace’s friends and the mysterious Kitling. Speaking of the Kitling, this is one of the elements that demonstrates the show’s lack of budget at the time – I was reminded of a worse looking Salem from the Sabrina the Teenage Witch show from the 1990s at times by this mangy animatronic creature, which looks even worse when you consider that there are real cats used in the streets of Perivale. The budget is also a problem when it comes to the Cheetah people costumes, which don’t allow the work done by the performers underneath to emote at all. It’s a credit to Lisa Bowerman that she manages to convey the developing relationship with Ace with these limitations. Then there are scenes like the motorbike joust, which really don’t work and don’t make a lot of sense, making the third part a bit of a nonsense really. Then there is the casting of Mitch, which like Pex in Paradise Towers, feels like a complete miscast if the character is supposed to be physically intimidating and this feels particularly blatant when he returns to the youth group to turn them against Patterson.
Do you know any nice people? Y’know, normal everyday people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the universe?Ace
This is probably the best performance by Anthony Ainley since his initial appearance opposite Tom Baker, as stories seemed to want to find ways to sideline him or almost make him seem like he is incompetent in comparison to the Doctor. He’s back on top form here, perhaps aided by the fact that the story does not try to disguise him in anyway. His involvement in this story is almost in your face from the opening minutes, and he seems a bit more subdued for most of this story’s runtime. I’ve read some people say that this may be due to the fact that the threat of the Master is minimised by some of the other foes that the Seventh Doctor has faced in the course of his travels like Fenric and the Gods of Ragnarok, and to an extent I’d agree with this approach. It would certainly be easy to dismiss the inclusion of the Master as some kind of obligation on a Doctor Who checklist (“Daleks?” “Check” “Cybermen?” “Check” “The Master?” “Hang on a minute…”) but this would certainly do Ainley a disservice. He feels like a real menacing threat at times, such as the scene where he and Midge set Patterson’s self-defence youths against him, which feels really unpleasant and entirely keeping for the Master’s modus operandi.
With the return of an intimidating Master and this story focussing on Ace’s return to her home, McCoy at times feels like the weak link in the central trio, but he does have a few moments to shine here. He is great in his final confrontation with the Master and good when he is investigating what is happening with the cats whilst Ace is off trying to find her friends. Meanwhile, this is probably one of the best performances Sophie Aldred puts in during Ace’s run on television. Some point to how Ace is very “received pronunciation” in her depiction of a 1980s teenager, and some of the other cast do play young working class teenagers with more convincing accents, but she does utterly convince her. Aldred is great here in her scenes with Karra and those where she is trying to control her more violent tendencies and her anguish certainly feels real.
Verdict: Survival sets up the form that the revived show would take and is a good story in its own right. It is let down by some weird casting and some questionable moments in its final part. 7/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Julian Holloway (Patterson), Lisa Bowerman (Karra), Norman Pace (Harvey), Gareth Hale (Len), William Barton (Midge), Sakuntala Ramanee (Shreela), David John (Derek), Sean Oliver (Stuart), Kate Eaton (Ange), Kathleen Bidmead (Woman), Adele Silva (Squeak) & Michelle Martin (Neighbour).
Writer: Rona Munro
Director: Alan Wareing
Behind the Scenes
- The final broadcast story of the show’s original run. Therefore, it is the final televised appearance of Sophie Aldred as Ace and Anthony Ainley as the Master.
- Working titles including Cat-Flap, Blood Hunt and The Survival.
- One of three stories to filmed entirely on Outside Broadcast video – the others were The Sontaran Experiment and The Curse of Fenric.
- The closing monologue was written by Andrew Cartmel and recorded by Sylvester McCoy on 23 November 1989, the show’s 26th anniversary.
- At the time of writing, Rona Munro is the only writer to have written for both the original and the revived shows, having returned to write The Eaters of Light for Series 10.
- The last story to credit the lead actor as playing The Doctor until The Christmas Invasion.
- Lisa Bowerman makes her Doctor Who debut here, being more well known for playing Bernice Summerfield in her own spin-off series and companion to the Seventh Doctor in the Big Finish audios. Bowerman has also gone on to direct for Big Finish, and is the most prolific director of the Short Trips and Companion Chronicles audio series.
- This is the final appearance of Anthony Ainley as the Master on television. Ainley was not asked to reprise the role for the 1996 TV Movie, but did appear in the video game Destiny of the Doctors, his final appearance before his death. His laugh makes an audio cameo in Utopia.
- The final appearance on television of Sophie Aldred as Ace, who would go on to reprise her role for Big Finish.
- William Barton voiced the Djinni in The Destroyer of Delights and Maddenjot in The Chaos Pool.
- Sakuntala Ramanee appeared in the Reeltime Pictures release Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor as well as various Big Finish audio plays in the Class, Bernice Summerfield and The Lives of Captain Jack ranges.
- David John has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio stories, most notably as Ace’s half-brother, Liam McShane, in The Rapture.
- Sean Oliver went on to play Chief Blue in the Big Finish story Red.
- Kathleen Bidmead had previously appeared in four uncredited roles in Doctor Who stories, including The Mysterious Planet, Paradise Towers, Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis.
- Michelle Martin was the final guest actor to appear in Doctor Who in its original run.
The scenes of Ace being chased through Perivale by a Cheetah on horseback.
There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on Ace. We’ve got work to do.The Seventh Doctor
Previous Seventh Doctor review: The Curse of Fenric